Monday, March 19, 2012

Taking the Train

Now that we're in Europe, it's more convenient and faster to take the train places.  Most families in Europe have only one car, and some even have no car.  Gas is very expensive and parking also starts to add up, so they make it harder for people to drive and try enticing them to take a train.
Stuttgart is the largest city in the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, so we are fortunate to have a very large and efficient metro system.  There are two types of lines that run through the city and the surrounding areas.  There is the S-bahn, which is the suburban trains, which go beyond the boundaries of the city, but have fewer stops and are pretty fast.  Then there is the U-bahn, which is more like a tram system within the city.  They have frequent stops and at times are on the road with cars.  We are fortunate that we live less than a 10 minute walk to a major S-bahn station, where three of the six S-lines comes through.  That means that every 10 minutes there is train headed downtown (every 5 minutes during rush hour) and once on the train it takes only 8 minutes to reach the center of the city (it takes 30 minutes by car).  There is a U-bahn stop about a 20 minute walk from our house and one day I made the mistake of taking that train because I figured it would be easier since I needed to go to the butcher and it would let me off right in front of the shop.  It was a big mistake.  It took 5 stops just to reach the first stop that would have been on the S-bahn.  It took 30 minutes to go the 8 minutes the S-bahn would have and it would have been a 5 minute walk to the butcher from the S-bahn station.

 An S-bahn train

A U-bahn train.  Don't let the pictures fool you, both types are below ground downtown, and above ground outside of downtown.

This is a map of the metro system for Stuttgart.  You can click on the image to make it larger.  We live on the upper right corner at the Zuffenhausen station, at the point where the S4, S5, and S6 meet to head into the city.  At the center of it all is the Hauptbahnhof, which is German for main station.  All six S-bahn lines meet there, as do several, but not all U-bahn lines.  The S-bahn and U-bahn lines are underground at this point, but above ground are the trains that lead away from the city.

The front of the Hauptbahnhof

The other side of the Hauptbahnhof, where you can see the train lines that will take you out of the city and other countries in Europe.

The Hauptbahnhof is currently a point of controversy in Stuttgart.  It is undergoing a major overhaul, where they will remove the tracks from above ground, and in the process create new tunnels to expand the reaches of the train system in the city.  The new tunnels will decrease train times within the city and out of the city significantly.  For example, a train from the Hauptbahnhof to the airport takes 26 minutes.  Once the renovation is complete, it will take only 8 minutes.  Also the area you see in the picture above with all the train tracks will become an addition to the park on the left hand side.  This is a point of controversy, mainly with the older generations, because the Hauptbahnhof is a historic building and one of the few that survived WWII bombing.  They feel that it should remain untouched and there is constant protesting.  In reality, the above ground portions, with the exception of the above ground tracks will remain completely untouched.  I was able to see the plans and models recently of the renovated station and I'm a little bummed that I won't get to see it.  It's a 4 billion dollar project and was only approved three years ago, so construction has only just started.

I first took the train after being here for only 10 days.  Not only that, I went to the other side of the city and had to make a train change on the S-bahn, and then transfer to the U-bahn.  Our downstairs neighbor had taken me to the station and shown me how to buy a ticket the week before, but I got completely disoriented at the station on which train platform I needed to be on.  Once I found the right platform, I bought my ticket, but the machine said to make sure to stamp it.  I had no idea where I was supposed to do that.  Fortunately, someone understood enough English to show me the orange box next to the ticket machine, that would stamp my ticket with the location, date, and time.  It's all on the honor system, so nobody checks your ticket each time.  There are undercover agents on the trains sometimes and if they check for tickets and you don't have one, there's a heavy fine.

After that first time, I was like a pro.  I've become very good at plotting things out.  I look up an address, then find the closest station to it.  I've yet to get lost (knock on wood).  The only problem I had was probably the third time I was out, and I got on an S-bahn train headed for home.  Brady was fussy and an older gentleman rudely informed me that I was in the first-class cabin.  I politely said I was sorry and that I was new in the area, but he had the need to tell me on my way out that I should pay more attention.  I've learned that people are very intolerant over here.  I knew there were first-class cars on the trains that go between cities, but I don't understand why anyone would pay more for a 10 minute train ride.  If they have that kind of money I feel like they should just drive if they can't stand to be around other people.

Brady loves to watch the trains go by when we are waiting on the platform and has even started to say "choo-choo."  He gets very upset when a train comes that isn't ours, but the moment we get on a train, he starts screaming.  He always has to be moving, so when we get on the train, he's confined to his stroller, and even though the train is moving, that's not enough for him.  He gets more upset when the doors open and we don't get off.  Like magic, the minute I roll him off the train, the waterworks stop instantly.  It's very stressful for me because kids in Europe are seen and not heard.

Two weeks ago, we had our first trip on a train headed from Stuttgart to another city.  We were excited to take one of the high-speed trains to Zurich.  With stops, it was just shy of three hours.  Brady was very well behaved and either played on my iPad or his LeapPad the whole time.  He did get tired and want to take a nap, but couldn't find a comfortable way to lay down across two seats. 

Taking the train to other cities in Europe is so nice.  It's kind of a bummer that the US is so spread out that this isn't an option for us.  Sure some places, it's easier to fly, but taking the train is so inexpensive.  Kids under 14 don't have to pay when accompanied by an adult, and even if they aren't with an adult, they're 50% off.  They even get their own seat without paying (like you could imagine having a 13 year old on your lap).  There are even certain trains that you can reserve a parent and child compartment.  It's also nice in the respect that you can get up and walk around, unlike on an airplane.  There's also so much more room, with the seats facing each other in groups of four, instead of all the seats facing forward, and always having someone's seat dig into your knees.

Below are some pictures of Brady on the train to Zurich.  At the top of the post is a picture on the way home from Zurich, when Andy was with us.

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